Artist Spotlight: Horsegirl

By: Samantha Eddy
Horsegirl posing for a photoshoot. Photo Courtesy of Michael Salisbury via These Days.

Chicago band Horsegirl are making their mark in music pretty quickly considering they are a fairly new band that just started playing shows in mid 2019. Formed by recent high school graduates Penelope Lowenstein (guitarist), Nora Cheng (guitarist), and Gigi Reece (drums), Horsegirl aims to bring back the noisy rock sound that seems to have been fading away over the past decade. So far, they have released one single titled ‘Forecast’ (2019), and an EP title Horsegirl, featuring singles ‘Sea Life Sandwich Boy’ (2020) and ‘Ballroom Dance Scene’ (2020). During their recent graduation, ‘Ballroom Dance Scene’ actually played on the radio, having been played 175 times on SiriusXMU within the past two months! 

Before forming a band together, the trio became friends on an unexpected basis. Individually, the girls were on the lookout for local music resources such as Old Town School of Folk Music and Girls Rock Chicago. In 2018, the three met each other after enrolling in the same music program. During their time in the program, they learned how to play music with others, how to run rehearsals, and even simple things like soundchecks and the correct way to loop your guitar cable. After months of hanging out together attending concerts, sharing music, and making some jams, the three decided to form their own band near the end of 2019. 

“The crazy thing is that we had seen upperclassmen and people from our music program playing shows and starting bands on their own, so it seemed like a very feasible thing to do. Whenever I hung out with Nora, my dad was so excited that I had found a friend that I loved and who would play music with me for hours in the basement. Once when he was driving, he said we needed to start a band. It was not my dad’s idea to start the band, because we always felt like it was on the horizon, but that was an extra push of confidence to decide to write our first song,” explains guitarist Lowenstein in a statement. 

Horsegirl posing for a photo. Photo Courtesy of Fiona Clark via Stereogum.

You may be wondering, “Where did they get the name Horsegirl?” Lowenstein, who thought of the name in middle school, answers this question with, “I thought of Horsegirl because of the girls who like horses, like with the really long hair.” “And they neigh and whatever, It’s a little bit of a play of like… it’s a joke. It started as a joke online and we don’t take ourselves seriously. We are serious about our music and we love writing music and we love listening to music, but it’s also fun to joke about it and joke around and have a good time,” says Reece. “To be honest, I kind of thought it was temporary,” Cheng adds.

Soon after deciding to make Horsegirl official, the girls came together on what kind of music they were seeking to create. “I think we kind of really bonded over the fact that, like Sonic Youth, there’s all these bands and scenes that kind of don’t exist anymore, and we’re really into those. It was something that we kind of wanted to be able to experience even though we couldn’t,” explains guitarist Cheng. “Another part of it was just figuring out that we all have the same music taste and developing our music taste together,” adds Lowenstein. They discussed that they wanted to bring back the music we used to see in bands like Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine.

The members of Horsegirl spend a lot of time tossing around ideas and seeing how different sounds combine. As Pitchfork perfectly describes their collaboration together, “Their days are spent obsessively falling down rabbit holes and sharing documentary clips in their group chate.” Horsegirl gets a lot of their inspiration from artists such as The Velvet Underground, Gang of Four, Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine, and Belle & Sebastian. The trio is highly influenced by drummers who stand while performing, detuned guitars, moody (but not quite emo) lyrics, and vintage-like video clips. These are the things Horsegirl want to implement into their music in order to bring back that noisy, “underground” style music that we really don’t hear much of anymore. 

Horsegirl posing for a photoshoot. Photo Courtesy of Brian Cassella via Chicago Tribune.

Since forming in 2019, the band has played gigs all around their hometown of Chicago, quickly becoming a local icon. This past July, Horsegirl embarked on their very first tour. After returning from their short tour, the girls took the stage in Chicago for the Pitchfork Music Festival on September 11. Prior to that performance, the members became overwhelmed with both nerves and excitement. “It feels like I’m getting ready for my wedding. My grandparents are going, my friends are going, my teacher will be there, plus I have to pick the perfect outfit,” Lowenstein stresses. “We’re kids writing songs that we love who are just trying to do our thing,” expresses Cheng. “We’re lucky to get to play and we’re going to lose our minds, but in the fun way where we’re grateful to get to be there at all,” Cheng continues. All mixed feelings aside, Horsegirl played quite the performance at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival.

Now that the new band has faced maybe one of the scariest aspects of being musicians and performing for large live audiences, they are determined to put together an incredible debut album. Since they have just finished high school, they want to dedicate as much time as they can on concocting an album before they have to begin college. “This was always our goal – to make an album before we go off to college. ‘Cause it’s like, this is our high school band and now it’s hopefully gonna be more our life band,” Reese details with sentiment. Lowenstein, who will not be going off to college, confirms that “it’s going to happen, and it’s going to be recorded before they go to college.”

With everything happening all at once, from forming the band, to quickly producing music, to working around the struggles of the pandemic, Horsegirl remains strong and determined to soon release their debut album. Reece explains “The best way of describing [where we’re at mentally] is that when people ask to interview us, we never have to ask who that is. Stereogum, Pitchfork, NME – trust us, we know. We read these sites all the time. It feels like I should be feeling all of this pressure because of that, especially when we only have three songs out and we’re making our first album, but I feel really good. I have a lot of faith in what we’re doing, and it’s cool to see other people think so, too.” 

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